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Not Just Red Hot Anymore - Kniphofia

5/28/2024 6:03 pm

Not Just Red Hot Anymore - Kniphofia 


Kniphofia 'High Roller' - Picture courtesy of Walters Garden



For many years, you either were or weren't a fan of Kniphofia, commonly known for what they looked like - red hot pokers. Count me in the "not a fan" group. They literally screamed for attention with their loud clashing colors and their formidable height. Lo and behold, the hybridizers managed to change my mind about these plants.


About Kniphofia


First, how does one pronounce this genus? I've been doing it wrong for life. It is nuh-FOE-fee-uh. Kind of gentle sounding for such an in-your-face plant! I always wrongly emphasized the "Knife" part as more relational to the plant.


Kniphofia goes by several common names in addition to red hot poker, including rocket flower and torch flower. The genus was named for a German botanist. It features about 70 species. They all come from Africa, mostly from the south and some from the east.


Kniphofia are rhizomatous, mostly clump-forming perennials with strappy basal leaves and showy bottlebrush like flowers atop spikes generally about six inches taller than the foliage. They can range in height from 1.5' to 6' tall in foliage alone. They are a favorite of hummingbirds in any size or color.


While they are full sun plants, a little protection from full sun in light shade isn't a bad thing in the deep South. Kniphofia are said to prefer sandy soils to clay. Root rot is a potential threat in poor draining soil, although literature from the Pacific Bulb Society indicates that many species are in fact marsh dwelling. Deer and bunnies generally do not disturb these. After establishment, they tolerate our heat and drought well. Most are hardy to Zone 6.


Deadhead expired flowers for re-bloom. Divide Kniphofia by severing offsets from the outside of clump. Division should be done every 3-5 years in Spring.


Species and Cultivars of Note


You can find Kniphofia in a range of colors now, from white/lime green to various shades of yellow, orange and red (often on the same plant).


Many of the plants we find in the trade in the U.S. are cultivars of the K. uvaria species.


Kniphofia 'Lady Luck' was the first "red hot poker" to change my mind. It can grow to 6' tall, though my young plant is nowhere close to that in its second year. Flowers emerge with chartreuse/lime green buds that open to white flowers. This gives a two-toned effect until the flowers fully open and become solid white. Hummingbirds were all over this in its first year and I can't wait for more action on it as they show up so nicely against the white flowers. 


Kniphofia 'Lady Luck'


Kniphofia 'High Roller' (pictured at the top of the page) is a bi-color featuring coral orange flowers over a small base of creamy white. This cultivar grows 3-4' high and is a hummingbird favorite too.


The "Pyromania" Collection contains a series of yellow, red, orange flowered specimens to go with the "on fire" theme.


Kniphofia 'Backdraft' has reddish orange flowers that open peachy yellow for a two-tone effect. It grows 30 to 36" tall.


Kniphofia 'Backdraft'


Kniphofia 'Orange Blaze' is a single color bright orange growing on the smaller side, 18-24" with the flower spikes growing 24-30".


Kniphofia 'Solar Flare' is a striking sunny yellow form that is particularly tall, 3 to 3 1/2 feet with flowers rising above.


Picture courtesy of Walters Gardens


The "Popsicle" series of Kniphofia features compact plants with high impact colors. Most grow 24-30" tall and a compact 14-16" wide. They feature a long bloom season from summer to fall.


Kniphofia 'Papaya Popsicle' is on the shorter side, but full of drama  with yellow and red flowers. Foliage goes to 18" and flowers can reach as tall as 3'.


Kniphofia 'Popsicle Papaya'



Kniphofia 'Mango Popsicle' looks ready to bite into with the deep mango single colored blooms.

Kniphofia 'Mango Popsicle'



Kniphofia 'Redhot Popsicle' is like a burst of cinnamon red hot candy. This single colored cultivar is easy to blend in a garden, mixing well with yellows. 


Kniphofia  'Popsicle Red Hot'


The "Poco" series are among the shorter cultivars. 'Poco Daybreak' bears the traditional red hot poker colors above foliage that is only 14-20" tall. 

Kniphofia 'Poco Daybreak' - Photo courtesy of Terra Nova 



Kniphofia linearfolia is a giant specimen. This species features flower heads on 7’ tall spikes. The flowers begin orange, fade to tangerine & then to yellow. It forms a substantial clump about 5’ wide & 6’ tall of bright green strap-like foliage. 




Local sources for Red Hot Poker species and cultivars include many of our independent nurseries like Grower's Outlet, The Kai Garden, and Randy's Perennials. There is now at least one Kniphofia in cultivation to suit every garden in size and color, so why not enjoy one or two and feed the hummingbirds too?


Contributed by Liane Schleifer